Saturday, December 31, 2005

Holiday Celebration in Tokyo

For Japan, December is a very busy month. This celebration time is called Shiwasu or 'the end of all things'. It's a time for Japanese to resolve their debts and meet obligations incurred in the past twelve months. Somewhat akinto our 'new year resolutions' it is a time to 'wipe the slate clean'. In this nation of Buddhists and Shintoists, the time of renewal is a fundamental belief, and the beginning new year is extremely meaningful - the most joyous holiday of all.

The celebrations begin the 29th of December and go on for a full week. Gifts and greeting cards are exchanged on the first day. Government offices are closed and there is a holiday rush to family homes.

December 31 is Omisoka 'the last grand day'. Favorite dining includes toshi-koshi soba, or New Year's noodles, which are associated with a long life.

On New Year's eve at the stroke of midnight, every temple bell in Japan tolls 108 times to symbolize the clearing away of the 108 human sins.

On New Year's Day and for three days after, celebrants visit temples and shrines across the country. Asakusa Kannon Temple and its bazaar is one of most revered sites. The temple, founded in the seventh century, is an assortment of sacred structures and shrines, and serves as the spiritual center of Shitamchi (old Tokyo).

The Asakusa Kannon Temple bazaar is lined with gift shops, restaurants, cinemas and music shows. Small booths feature souvenirs, incense and good luck charms like wooden arrows and fortune scrolls. Arrows from last year's celebration are burned in fires. Other shops offer traditional dishes such as yaki soba, a spicy noodle dish; oden, a fish dumpling stew; and sticky rice cakes called mochi. Mochi represent the abundance of the past year and continued prosperity in the years to come.

Basic Mochi Recipe (Pictured above)

Open a package of Mochi. With a large, sharp knife, cut into pieces about 1-1/2" square. Bake in a pre-heated 450° F oven or toaster-oven for 8-10 minutes or until squares are puffed up and slightly browned. Mochi is delicious and satisfying eaten just this way. You can also fill the Mochi puffs with your favorite sandwich ingredients, sauces, or spreads. Here are some ideas : Top or stuff with butter and honey. Stuff with peanut butter or almond butter. Add jam if you like. Dip in a mixture of soy sauce, honey and fresh-grated ginger. Stuff with sliced or grated cheese. Stuff with avocado, tomato, sprouts and salad dressing. Fill with tabouli salad, tahini or baba ganoush. Smother with Italian-style tomato sauce and cheese. Fill with beans, cheese, tomatoes and onions for a Mochi Burrito. Fill with sautéed vegetables such as carrots, cabbage, and onions. Stuff with cream cheese, dates and cashews.

News via LA Downtown News: 'e.3rd: Restaurateur Jason Ha, of the popular Zip Fusion Sushi at Third and Traction, is embarking on his second Arts District eatery this year. The venture called e.3rd will convert a former warehouse and film studio into a mid-priced steakhouse with a fusion twist. There will be copious outdoor seating, funky decor and a centerpiece soju, beer and wine bar. The Third Street restaurant will open later in the year.'

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Monday, October 17, 2005

Comfort Food for a Rainy Day.

Winter is upon us and depending on where you live (north of the equator), it's either rain or snow -or both. But definitely a wet something! So we search for warmth and comfort and fend off those hibernation tendencies that would keep us in our cave all winter.
We seek good comfy restaurants and the restaurants struggle to keep us interested. There are a million variations of a theme in cuisine offerings but sometimes we just have to dip into the real comfort food and cook ourselves a good meatloaf at home. Add some garlic mashed potatoes and a little green stuff then curl up later like a fat cat on a rainy day.
While I was researching some food books I came across a recipe for meatloaf that was purported to be the most requested recipe in 1985. It is Ann Lander’s meatloaf. So here’s to a rainy day treat. (you southern folks could do this on a cold wet day too).

Ann Lander’s Meatloaf

Serves 6

2 pounds ground round
2 eggs beaten
1 ½ cups bread crumbs
¾ cup ketchup
1 teaspoon Accent
½ cup warm water
1 package instant onion soup mix
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 strips bacon
1 can tomato sauce (8oz.)


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Mix together all the ingredients except the bacon and tomato sauce.
Blend thoroughly. Put the mixture in an oiled loaf pan.
Smooth out the top with a spatula.
Lay the bacon down the length of the meat loaf and pour the tomato sauce over it all.
Bake in middle oven for 1 hour.

I would say just pick your favorite wine, whatever it is. This is all about you.

And...You can always call out for dessert.

If you need a loaf pan or just love kitchen stores you've just got to check out SurLaTable.
It's the Cadillac of kitchen shops.

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Friday, April 22, 2005

The Wine and Green Mushroom Caper.

(a day in the life of a vintner)

We were really looking forward to our visit with Andy and Gwen. Old college buddies, while I chose the medical profession, Andy chose sales. After a few years, Andy joined a wine distributor and eventually evolved into a master vintner. He is semi retired now, but as we reached his villa on a high hill in Napa, California, all we could see was grape vines twisting gracefully along rows fading off into the horizon. He certainly still had his hand in it.

We visited all morning while downing several glasses of a variety of wines that Andy had produced and tinkered with.

Finally I excused myself to find the bathroom. Gwen directed me down the hall, to the right, third door on the right. Light switch on the left. Being a bit tipsy, I did manage to find the bathroom, but on the way out, turned the wrong way into another hall.

There before me was the master suite. As I peeked in, I noticed what appeared to be a giant green mushroom growing right in the middle of the bedroom. Backing away, I weighed whether should mention it, citing my error in directions; or not, for fear of being thought a snoop. But my find was just too strange and my semi inebriated brain had no control over my mouth. As I reached the doorway of the sitting room I just spontaneously blurted “why are you growing a giant green mushroom in your bedroom?”

Andy and Gwen exchanged puzzled glances, and then glanced back at me. Their faces both changed to horror at about the same time. They leapt from their chairs and dashed down the hall. We followed close behind wondering if I had just stumbled into an alien nation or something.

It was the waterbed. Andy had attached a garden hose to fill it sometime just before we arrived, and had completely forgotten about it.

By this time the bed had swollen to the size of a giant blimp. The wooden stays on the bed separated and pulled apart. The sheetrock was cracking under the sideways expansion into the wall. The nails in the bed must have been finally exposed, because the bed material suddenly gave way to a huge popping sound and water began to run everywhere. It quickly saturated the carpets and flowed down the hall. Water began to leak to the lower floors. There wasn’t much we could do but watch in dismay. Andy raced downstairs and we were quick to follow. Sure enough, the water continued its downward path clear to the basement.

The basement turned out to be an extensive wine cellar, home to Andy’s most coveted wine collection. Row upon row of bottles lay carefully filed on their sides, separated by vintage and other important details known only to him.

Seeing water leaking from the heating duct over his head he quickly reached up and pushed the edges tighter together to see if he could seal off the leaky area. Instead, the duct opened with a long squealing sigh, separating like a rhino’s jaws sending gallons of water gushing over the wine bins and flowing down to the lowest section of the floor knocking over a row of shelves nested there. There, in the lowest, darkest, coolest cave-like opening was Andy’s most precious and newly-tasted collection of wine. As we picked the bottles out of the water one by one, all the handwritten labels completely slid off and floated away.

More and more labels on the racked bottles became dislodged and before long, there were labels floating everywhere.

After a few minutes Andy stood back and took stock of the situation, there was only one thing to do. And it was urgent.

We needed to taste and grade the wines as soon as possible, before he forgot the content of each of the bottle’s washed off labels. And, of course, determine which bottle was which.

We set up our tasting table near the shelves of the now label-less wine bottles. Andy would choose the bottle, write down what he remembered about the label contents and we would all taste the wine, commenting on the flavors, acidity, grape, etc., all the things a wine connoisseur might want to know. We pressed on through the afternoon into the late evening, until the last naked bottle had been tasted and Andy had completed his notes in his journal. All in all, we had tasted our way through about 27 bottles of wine.

We had no business driving back to our motel in the condition we were in, but we were wet, exhausted and probably getting on the nerves of our host by then.

After a few days we received a most gracious note from Andy, thanking us for our help and fortitude. The house was almost back to normal, and the waterbed had been replaced with an airbed.

We wondered, could he risk blowing himself up with one?

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

When it comes to sushi, I have no class

When I was growing up on Cape Cod, I would go to the fish pier every Sunday morning with my Dad to pick up a fresh fish. Part of the ritual would be to stand on the dock and watch the boats unload. While the men all exchanged their secret language of growl and spit, I would stand off to one side watching the fisherman prepare their fresh catch. Many times a fish would jump the box and lay flapping around on the deck of the boat. The fisherman would pick it up, push a fish knife into the lower belly, and with a quick twist of the wrist the fish’s internal organs would come bursting out and hang down like grapes. The fisherman would then pull the innards from the fish, toss the fish in the lift bucket and off it would go to the market. The ghastly smelling innards were tossed to the irrepressible seagulls hovering and shrieking above.

Several times while looking at the neat rows of raw fish displayed in the fish market, I would see long tall almost transparent worms standing up from the flesh, looking around. Seaweed was used to decorate the edges of the inner display case but no one ever dreamed of eating it.

Now here I sit at a beautiful teak counter watching the sushi chef do his art. He slices the raw fish delicately and rolls it up in sticky rice, wraps it in seaweed and garnishes it with ginger. He makes another pretty roll and adds lobster and shrimp.

Once I found out that lobsters are like seagoing cockroaches they were removed from my ‘food for Kathy’ list; …and now I’m not so sure about shrimp either.

Anyway, even at this enlightened age of “fty-something” I cannot separate myself from my early memories of fish processing and therefore will never be able to take part in the trendy practice of devouring raw fish. Even wasabi won’t help.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Centipede souffle?

Could bugs be the next cuisine trend?

Just imagine it: 'Restaurant Arthropod's'.

Now serving Locust louis; Mealy bug meatloaf; Centipede souffle; Moth broth; Mosquito fahito au jus.; Chigger juice.

Insects for dinner?

No, not the smashed fly between the pages of your plastic menu or the little roach that scrambles out from under your plate in a restaurant, but the one who gets delivered in your dinner on purpose.

Consider the possibilities...

Arthropods, or organisms with jointed legs are clearly related to lobsters, crabs and other edible beings in the ocean. I’ve heard that lobsters are actually sea-going cockroaches; and in addition, lobster exoskeletons also have the same jointed legs and antennae as grasshoppers.

Also, in comparison, grasshoppers should be more desirable than lobsters. Grasshoppers eat clean grass; lobsters eat sea garbage like dead fish and other remains on the murky ocean floor.

Of course we all eat some insects unknowingly. Aphids cling to lettuce leaves, and weevils and beetles can reside in flour and rice undetected. The FDA actually has a measurement of ‘acceptable’ insect presence in food.

You might consider the nutritional angle. Termites have considerably more protein than a steak, for example and that protein has more amino acids essential to our diet than any other animal.

Insects can be ‘farm raised’. You can breed them like cattle, and in a smaller space with less odor!

They could be marketed as a simple solution to world hunger. (Many nations already commonly eat insets, by the way.) There are about five million species roaming the earth, so we would definitely enjoy more variety in our dishes.

Rather than being crop destroyers, they would be the crop.

If you are curious, why don’t you pick up a book on cooking insects, I know I've seen them around, and try out a few dishes at your next formal dinner party. And chefs, consider the colorful presentations you could make! Real butterflies……

I’ll bet that if you dipped them in chocolate you could get almost anyone to try one.

...We ate in a seafood restaurant last night and I sadly passed on the lobster tail.

by Diningroom Diva

Feature writer for

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